#FridayReads Salt To The Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

I don’t have to tell you that we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of unparalleled times. Without going too much into politics, I will just say that any type of generalized discrimination against race/ethnicity, country of origin, gender, ability/disability, etc, is incredibly dangerous. Taking such a hardline stance against people because they don’t come from here makes little sense, given that problems can be generated from bad actors from within also.

But avoiding a full dive into that, which could go on and on, I thought it would be interesting to read a book proposed by one of my Twitter followers who suggested that it might make us more aware of the plot of the wartime refugee. It’s titled Salt to The Sea, by Ruta Sepetys. Yes, it’s another World War II book, of which there are many. I know, because I’ve read at least a quarter of them. It’s an era that has always fascinated and terrified me, given that really one man’s ideology could end up causing so much strife throughout Europe, and by extension and alliances, through Asia and Africa as well.

But the thing that makes this book more interesting is that it focuses on what happened toward the end of the war, as Germans, Polish persons, and others alike ran for the ports in an attempt to escape an uncertain future. The story is told from four perspectives: that of Joana, a nurse who takes care of many of them; Emelia, a 15-year-old who is contending with the loss of her mother and family; Florian, a runaway German soldier; and Alfred, whom I think is still serving in the German army. They all have different dreams and desires, for instance the German who is still serving recites the ethnicities Hitler wishes to wipe out and fantasizes about how he will help the Fuhrer achieve his awful aims. Emelia ponders what it will be like to reconstruct some kind of family that at least resembles that which she has lost. I’m still only 30% of the way through the story, but apparently these characters, along with other minor ones such as a “shoe poet,” a little boy and even a blind girl named Ingrid, will converge aboard a ship. I am anxious to see how this turns out.

I did want to address that blind character. First, I wonder to what extend that was influenced by All The Light We Cannot See, the bestseller from a couple years ago. Or, were there just a lot of blind folks out there walking around then. It’s interesting. My only small quibble with this individual is the usual; the idea that Ingrid has special sensory powers incurred by her lack of sight. Ability to hear things long before everyone else does. Can tell eye color by some sort of feel? Often has ability to deduce more about one’s personality than most everyone else.

On the sensory issue, as far as I know we do not have “more powerful senses,” but we just learn to use and integrate the information we receive more effectively. In a sense, we use all of what we have left to make up for our eyes, and in some case our ears as well. For instance, I have learned to use the smell of laundry to guide me back to my apartment door in some cases, when my neighbor happens to be running her washer. This isn’t always available, of course, but it can be handy. Along with the sometimes useful tactic of reorienting myself by using the Air conditioner’s hum, (only when it’s hot enough, so again I’d better kind of know my way!) But y’all, I think anyone could do this sort of thing if he or she really had to. It’s more about the repurposing of brain areas, as our visual cortex maps itself accordingly.

As far as “feeling” colors? Well I admit I’ve heard some say they can do this? But I have no idea how it works, and don’t think it’s at all common.

And finally the personality issue: we can see more with our heart than you can with your eyes and all that clichéd stuff? Hmmm, well again I don’t really know. I would say I do tend to have good vibes about people. Whether that’s to do with my blindness is an open question. But I can and do get it wrong as far as how people might actually come across, and I along with all of the other blind people I know are far from perfect and have the same kinds of flaws as the general public.

I think what I’d like to see most is a more complicated blind person. But maybe it’s my job to try and write one? We shall see. In any event, it is a pretty good book, and for the most part I don’t have a big problem with this portrayal. Check it out and let me know what you think.

3 Responses to #FridayReads Salt To The Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

  1. I know what I’m about to say is a lateral comment but I know what you mean by people saying ‘oh your sons hearing makes up for his blindness’ and I have to say ‘ no, he hears just as well as you, he just relies on it first instead of second or third like you do’. As a mum of a blind kid, I heard so many things as ‘god gave him to you as you can cope’ or ‘if anyone can do it, you can’. It’s all bullshit I think – You live on your world and do things as you can. If everyone gets out of the way of their own ‘head’ or ‘mind’ you do whatever you believe. It’s not complicated – you just do. You just do.

  2. Thanks for the book recommendation, it sounds like an interesting book. John, I always look forward to your writings, along with your perspective on the plot and each character.

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